The Best of China & Yangtze River Cruise

Shanghai, Yichang, Three Gorges, Guilin, Xi'an & Beijing
plus Tibet optional extension

This itinerary is for a past tour program.
Check out our new Best of China tour.

Chinese Dancers in costume China, one of the oldest nations in the world, whose recorded history dates back 5,000 years, has always been one of the most attractive and exotic travel destinations in the world. Throughout its history, China has been a leader in technology and scientific discovery (it's the birthplace of moveable type, astronomy and spaghetti). Today, it is the third-largest nation in the world in size, bordered by 14 other countries and encompassing virtually every type of terrain imaginable, and the first in population, with 1.3 billion people.

For travelers interested in visiting an important culture that is truly different from their own, China is an experience of a lifetime, and our "Best of China" tour has been designed to assure that you see, and experience, the very best this magnificent nation has to offer. But don't let our exceptionally low pricing fool you. There are no compromises on quality and content. If you've wanted to experience the best of China, from its most dynamic, modern cities to its timeless villages and breathtaking natural wonders, this is one trip you won't want to miss.


Detailed Itinerary

Shanghai city skyline Day 1: Depart USA. Your exotic journey to China begins today as you check in for your wide-body jet flight for Shanghai, China.

Day 2: Shanghai. Arrive in Shanghai, China's largest city, bustling commercial center and port. In recent years, Shanghai has gone through a major revitalization and is now considered one of Asia's most vibrant and exciting cities.

Nanjing Lu, Shanghai's famous shopping street After passport control and customs, meet your guide and drive to your hotel, located near Shanghai's famous Bund. Check in and freshen up, then enjoy your first lunch in China. This afternoon, visit picturesque Zhujiajiao, Shanghai's Venice, an ancient water town with a history of more than 1700 years. The charming bridges that crisscross the town's many waterways are distinctive and old, built during Ming and Qing Dynasties in different shapes and styles and from various building materials such as wood, stone and marble. This evening, join your felloiw travelers at a welcome dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.Broadway Mansions Hotel (L, D)

Air China Agents (NOTE: On Oct 23 and Nov 6 departures, arrival in Shanghai will be in the mid-afternoon. Upon arrival, after passport control and customs, meet your guide and drive to your hotel, located near Shanghai's famous Bund. This evening, join your fellow travelers at a welcome dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.The Shanghai city tour usually scheduled this afternoon will occur instead on the morning of Day 4, followed by afternoon transfer to the airport for the flight to Yichang to board the Yangtze River cruise.)Broadway Mansions Hotel (L,D)

Shanghai museum of ancient art Day 3: Shanghai. After breakfast depart on a full day tour including lunch to some of Shanghai's most fascinating places. Begin at the Shanghai Museum of ancient Chinese art, which possesses a collection of 120,000 precious works. Its rich and high-quality collection of ancient Chinese bronze, ceramics, painting and calligraphy is known throughout the world.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower Our next stop is the lovely and fascinating Children's Palace, offering after-school programs for high-achieving children with advanced instruction in music, art, science, sports, and computers. Among two dozen children's palaces in Shanghai, this one is especially interesting for its gorgeous colonial setting and lovely interior. Built between 1918 and 1931 by a Jewish family from Baghdad, the Kadoories, this sprawling mansion, known as Marble Hall during colonial times for its grand hallways and gigantic marble ballroom with ornate fireplaces and chandeliers, has remained reasonably well preserved despite years of children's activities.

Jade Temple
Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai
Continue to the Jade Buddha Temple, which houses two exceptional Buddha statues, each exquisitely carved from a single piece of white jade. The temple's architectural design is also very impressive and finally, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a notable Shanghai landmark in the newly developed Pudong area. It is a working TV tower and possibly the tallest structure in Asia. Visit the Yu Garden, a classical Chinese garden with over 30 pavilions linked by a maze of corridors and bridges over ponds located in the center of the Old Town.

The Bund, Shanghai Complete your tour of Shanghai with a visit to the Bund, also called Zhongshan Road, a famous waterfront that has been regarded as the symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. Tonight, enjoy an optional dinner at a local restaurant followed by the exciting acrobatic show at Shanghai's Ritz Carlton Hotel. ($25) Breakfast & lunch provided.

President no. 1 Day 4: Shanghai & Yichang. Transfer to the airport for the flight to Yichang, where you'll embark on your Yangtze River cruise on the MV President #1, the recently refurbished, deluxe star of China's fleet of river cruisers. Settle into your outside balcony cabin and enjoy dinner and entertainment on board. MV President #1 River Cruise Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

(NOTE: On Oct 23 and Nov 6 departures, begin the day with a visit to picturesque Zhujiajiao, Shanghai's Venice, an ancient water town with a history of more than 1700 years. The charming bridges that crisscross the town's many waterways are distinctive and old, built during Ming and Qing Dynasties in different shapes and styles and from various building materials such as wood, stone and marble. Later in the afternoon transfer to the airport for the flight to Yichang to board your Yangtze river cruiser.)

Three Gorges Project Day 5: The Three Gorges Dam & Xiling Gorge. This morning before setting sail for the Xiling Gorge, the first of the three famous gorges you will visit during your cruise, you first will have an opportunity to learn about the project to build a huge dam on the Yangtze River and see how it has advanced toward it's projected 2009 completion date. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken by mankind, has been a dream for generations. The Chinese Government finally gave its approval to launch the project in 1992, some seventy years after Sun Yat-sen first proposed the idea. Once completed, it will provide China with tremendous power generation and flood control.

Return to your river cruiser and begin your sail through the Xiling Gorge, longest and historically the most turbulent of the Yangtze gorges. Before the passage was made safe in the 1950s, 'the whole surface of the water was a swirling mass of whirlpools sucking the froth they created into their centers.' Xiling comprises seven small gorges and two of the fiercest rapids in the stretch of the Yangtze between Chongqing and Yichang. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Yangtze River Day 6: Shennong Stream, Wu Gorge & Qutang Gorge. After breakfast, visit Shennong Stream, a tributary of the Yangtze River. With crystal clear water, this stream flows swiftly from north to south through deep gorges. A sampan tour takes you on an exciting, high speed adventure along this newly opened unspoiled river. Return to your river cruiser and continue sailing to Wu Gorge, the most beautiful section of the Yangtze River, flanked by high peaks that are often capped by fog or clouds. The steep slopes of the gorge are green with trees and bushes but navigators from times past knew that the lovely scenery hid dangers, including whirlpools, quicksand and rapidly varying currents. Continue sailing to Qutang Gorge, known for its sheer and spectacular precipices and uniquely beautiful natural formations from every direction. Two mountains, the Red Passage Mountain to the north and the White Salt Mountain to the south, form the Kui Gate, a giant passage through which the tumultuous Yangtze bursts in an exciting rush of rolling and roaring water. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Chinese girls Day 7: Ghost City of Fengdu. Today you'll visit the city of Fengdu, situated on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, which, throughout 2000 years of legend became known as a "ghost city" and is today popular among tourists who come to visit the temples and shrines dedicated to the gods of the underworld. Fengdu was first described as a 'City of Ghosts' in two ancient, classic Chinese works—"Monkey King" and "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio". In keeping with the town's theme, landmarks bear thematic names such as Last Glance at Home Tower, Nothing-to-be-done Bridge, and Ghost Torturing Pass. Interestingly, China's famous ghost town will become an island after the Three Gorges Dam project is finally completed. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Reed Flute Cave, Guilin Day 8: Chongqing & Guilin. You arrive at Chongqing this morning and disembark the cruise ship. Time permitting, visit the museum named for Gen. Joseph Stillwell, Commander-in-Chief of the Sino-US forces in the China-Burma-India theater of WWII. Then transfer to Chongqing Airport for the flight to Guilin. Upon arrival, board your touring coach and visit the Reed Flute Cave, whose name comes from the verdant reeds growing outside that are used to make flutes. The cave itself contains spectacular and dramatic stalactites, stone pillars and rock formations illuminated for additional drama by colored lighting. Tonight you'll enjoy a western-style dinner at your hotel. Lijiang Waterfall Hotel Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Seven Star Park, Guilin Day 9: Guilin. Set alongside the Li River, Guilin boasts dramatic limestone mountains and formations that have caused many Chinese to call its landscapes the "finest under heaven." This morning experience the uniquely Chinese art of Taiji, or "shadow boxing," commonly known as Tai Chi. It is often promoted and practiced as a martial arts therapy for the purposes of health and longevity, and it is taught and practiced throughout the world. Your introduction to this "soft" martial art takes place in one of Guilin's peaceful parks.

Li River sunset  Photo by Willem Proos
Li River sunset Photo by Willem Proos
Return to the water with a cruise tour on the beautiful Li River to Yangshuo. Enjoy lunch aboard the boat. Spend the afternoon in the lovely town of Yangshuo, perhaps strolling or shopping for souvenirs along Xian Qian Street, where pedestrians have the right of way and cars are prohibited. Return to Guilin by motor coach late this afternoon. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Li River near Guilin Day 10: Guilin & Xi'an. After breakfast, transfer to the airport for the flight to Xi'an. After lunch, set out to explore the Yangling tombs, a spectacular archeological find dating back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty. The ancient city uncovered here included an area inhabited by officials and nobles, an area for regular citizens, a potters' workshop area, a mint and graves of children. Among the 10,000 unearthed objects were building materials such as arched tile and five-edged water pipes; daily necessities such as pottery basins and jars; and armor and weaponry made of brass or iron. A dozen wells with clay walls were found as well as the earliest Chinese bathing pool. Also on view is a display of colorful human clay figures, about one third the height of the Qin Terra cotta warriors.

Tang Dynasty Dinner Show Musicians After touring this impressive and fascinating site, continue to your hotel. This evening, join your fellow travelers at a Tang Dynasty dinner show. Shangri-La Golden Flower Hotel Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Emperor Qin's terra cotta warriors, Xian Day 11: Xi'an. After breakfast, board your touring coach and drive to the site of the famous Terra Cotta Army, among the most important archeological discoveries of modern times. Except for its old City Wall, some 8 mi/12 km around, Xi'an looks like any other large industrial city. However, it holds an important archeological treasure, the Qin Army Vault Museum, home to the army of 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soldiers unearthed 25 mi/40 km east of town. More than 8,000 life-size ceramic soldiers, chariots and horses have been uncovered-only a fraction of the total buried there to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor. Each soldier is based on an actual person of the time, and all segments of Chinese society are represented. After a delicious dumpling lunch, visit some of Xi'an's other important sites.

Wild Goose Pagoda Additional visits today include the City Wall, initially begun during the old Tang Dynasty and surviving today as China's most complete city wall. It is also considered one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda, another site visited today, is the symbol of ancient Xi'an. Originally built in 652, it is a well-preserved building and a holy place for Buddhists.

Chinese woman, Lijiang The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an (today's Xi'an), was the most populous city in the world at the time, and is regarded by historians as the golden age of literature and art in China. At the Tang Dynasty Arts Museum, you will view many beautiful examples of painting, pottery, sculpture, callligraphy and other art forms of the period.The flea market outside the museum offers an opportunity to buy inexpensive and beautifully embroidered clothing. There you will also find unique and colorful paintings done by local farmer-artists, that make wonderful, inexpensive souvenirs of your trip. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing Day 12: Xi'an, Beijing & Temple of Heaven. Transfer to the airport to fly from Xi'an to Beijing, China's historic and cultural capital. Upon arrival, board your touring coach for an afternoon tour of the Temple of Heaven, a World Heritage Site. In ancient China, the Emperor of China was regarded as the "Son of Heaven", who administered earthly matters on behalf of, and representing, heavenly authority.

Young Kung-Fu performers To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The temple was built for these ceremonies, and each winter solstice the Emperor and all his retinue would move through the city to encamp within the complex, wearing special robes and abstaining from eating meat while personally praying to Heaven for good harvests. The symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East over many centuries. This evening, join your fellow travelers for a Shaolin Kung Fu show. Beijing International Hotel Breakfast & lunch provided.

Great Wall of China Day 13: Great Wall of China & Ming Tombs. Depart after breakfast on a full day included excursion to the only man-made structure visible from the moon, the Great Wall of China, which follows a ridge of barren hills stretching at least 3,750 miles (6,000 km). Construction of the Great Wall, which spanned more than two thousand years, began between the 7th and 6th century BC and continued through the Ming Dynasty. The wall was originally built of stone, wood, grass and earth, but during the Ming Dynasty, bricks were produced in kilns set up along the wall. The bricks were transported by men carrying them on their backs or by donkeys, mules and even goats, which had bricks tied to their heads before being driven up a mountain.

Ming Tombs Enjoy an opportunity to mount the ramparts of this ancient wonder before proceeding to the Ming Tombs, burial site of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. In over 200 years, between 1409 and 1644, tombs were built over an area of 40 square kilometers. Each tomb is located at the foot of a separate hill and is linked with the other tombs by a road called the Sacred Way. A massive stone archway, built in 1540 at the southern end of the Sacred Way, is decorated with designs of clouds, waves and divine animals. Tonight, enjoy Beijing's most famous (and delicious) culinary treat—Peking Duck. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Friendly Planet passengers at the Tiananmen gate Day 14: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Summer Palace. Begin your touring day with a stroll along Tian'anmen Square, originally built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty. At 440,000 square meters, Tiananmen Square is the largest open square in the world. It was here that the People's Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949.

Forbidden City, Beijing Continue to the Forbidden City, located at the exact center of the ancient city of Beijing, where it served as the imperial palace during the mid-Ming and Qing Dynasties. Known as the Palace Museum today, its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square meters, 800 buildings and more than 8,000 rooms. The Forbidden City is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world and was declared a World Heritage site in 1987.

Summer Palace After lunch at a nearby local restaurant, continue to the Summer Palace, literally translated as the Garden of Nurtured Harmony, which started out life as the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Here artisans lovingly reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou. The garden served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, and in December 1998 it became another World Heritage Site in Beijing, with UNESCO declaring it an "outstanding expression of the creative art of Chinese landscape garden design, incorporating the works of humankind and nature in a harmonious whole." Tonight you are our guests for a farewell dinner at the revolving restaurant atop your Beijing hotel, where you will enjoy a sumptuous buffet while watching the spectacular panorama of China's spectacular capitol city. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 15: Beijing/USA. Transfer to the airport to board your returning flight to the USA. Your exciting journey comes to an end as you arrive in the USA later today. Or, continue your tour to the fascinating and exotic rooftop of the world, Tibet.Breakfast provided.


Optional Extension to Tibet, Rooftop of the World

Himalayan Mountains After your tour in China, why not take advantage of a unique opportunity to visit mysterious and exotic Tibet, located at the very rooftop of the world. For centuries, Tibet was an almost mythical land hidden behind the Himalayas, closed to outsiders and visited by only the hardiest explorers. Today, travelers can easily reach Lhasa, Tibet's capital and gateway to Tibet and experience a culture far different from our own. Here you will find kind, friendly, welcoming people, breathtaking vistas and deeply spiritual ritual that is completely interwoven with the fabric of everyday life. It's an experience not to be missed.

Tibetan young women Our Tibet, Rooftop of the World Extension includes three nights at the 4-star Lhasa Hotel, considered the best hotel in Tibet, comprehensive guided touring of Lhasa's major sites, most meals and an opportunity to explore the sacred places, many predating the start of the Common Era, the famous Bakhor market, where you can join Tibetans from all parts of the plateau and foreign visitors alike in shopping, strolling and enjoying this unique and special place up close and personal!

Day 15: Beijing/Lhasa. Transfer to the airport to board your flight to Lhasa, capital of Tibet. Upon arrival, transfer to your centrally located hotel near the Potala Palace and other important sites. Spend the rest of the day at leisure to acclimatize yourself to the extreme altitude of Lhasa. Join your group members for a welcome dinner this evening. Lhasa Hotel Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Potala Palace Day 16: Lhasa. This morning, after a good night's rest, begin your exploration of Lhasa at the Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century and probably the most revered and best known building in the land. Built at an altitude of more than 11,000 ft on the side of Marpo Ri, the Red Mountain in the center of Lhasa Valley, Potala Palace has vast, inward-sloping walls broken only in the upper parts by straight rows of many windows and flat roofs at various levels giving it a fortress-like appearance. The palace complex, which includes the White Palace which was built for secular use and contains the living quarters of the Dalai Lama, offices, the seminary and the printing house. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace, the other side of the sacred Potala, which is completely devoted to religious study and prayer.

Young monk The Red Palace consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, chapels and libraries on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages and other buildings, is built on Red Mountain in the center of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of over 11,000 feet. Later, visit the Mentsekhang, the largest traditional hospital in Tibet and a major center of research, treatment, training and production of Tibetan medicine. A visit to a carpet factory, where you can see how the magnificent and colorful Tibetan carpets are created (and where you can purchase and arrange shipping if you wish) completes your day of touring. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Jokhang  temple roof
Jokhang temple roof
Day 17: Lhasa. After breakfast, visit the Jokhang Temple Monastery, founded in the 7th century. This exceptional Buddhist religious complex is the most celebrated temple in Tibet, attracting adherents of all the Buddhist sects as well as followers of Bon-Po, Tibet's indigenous religion. Proceed to the Norbulingka, the largest and grandest garden of the Tibet Plateau and the Dalai Lama's former summer palace. Constructed in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Tibetan art and its magnificent gardens are today a park open for the public to visit and enjoy.

Yak  Photo by Willem Proos
Yak   Photo by Willem Proos
Continue to Bakhor Street, the oldest street in Lhasa and a wonderful, colorful shopping area whose narrow streets are lined with shops, kiosks and vendor's Thangkas, prayer wheels, butter lamps, prayer flags, Tibetan joss sticks and other typical Tibetan goods. This is the best place to sharpen your bargaining skills, and even without the benefit of knowing the language, your pocket calculator is all the equipment you'll need to buy souvenirs at bargain prices. This evening, join your fellow travelers for dinner and a folklore performance of Tibetan dancing. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Tibetan boy Day 18: Lhasa/Tsedang. This morning you'll depart Lhasa for Tsedang, Tibet's third largest city. En route and set amid open farmland, stands Tibet's very first monastery, Samye, which is over 1200 years old. The monastery combines the styles of China, Tibet and India, and the layout was designed to represent the ideal universe described in Buddhist scriptures. Samye Monastery contains within and upon its walls many historic, religious, architectural and artistic examples from every period of Tibetan history. Its frescoes are well-known in the world for their wide variety of subjects, rich content and exquisite artistic detail. Continue by touring coach to Tsedang and check into your hotel. Tsedang HotelBreakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Prayer wheels Day 19: Tsedang/Lhasa Airport/Beijing. This morning, visit Yumbu Lhakang, the first palace and one of the earliest building projects in all of Tibet. Towering above the summit of Mt. Tashitseri on the East bank of Yarlung River, legend has it that Yumbu Lhakang was established by "Bon" (Tibet's earliest religious sect) believers for the first Tibetan King, Nyetri Tsampo, during the 2nd century B.C. Our next stop is Traduk Monastery, another of the earliest Buddhist temples in Tibetan history. Built in 641 A.D., it is said that King Songtsan Gampo established the temple so that his kingdom might prosper. Later, Traduk Monastery became a royal winter palace filled with ancient relics and treasures. After lunch, drive to Lhasa Airport to board your flight to Beijing. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Beijing International Hotel. Tonight dinner is on your own. There are many wonderful restaurants in Beijing, including the rooftop revolving restaurant. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Day 20: Beijing/USA. Say a reluctant goodbye to China as you transfer to the airport for your return flight to the USA, arriving in Los Angeles later today.

Add $1299, double occupancy for the Tibet Extension. Single occupancy rooms are available for an additional $280.

The Tibet, Rooftop of the World Extension requires a minimum of 8 passengers in order to operate at published prices.

Important Note: The high altitudes reached on this trip (Tibet is about 12,000 feet above sea level) and the amount of walking involved, often on uneven terrain, requires that you be in good physical condition to fully enjoy the trip. We strongly suggest that you consult a physician regarding any concerns prior to making a reservation.


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Chinese boys  Photo by Willem Proos
Chinese boys Photo by Willem Proos
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